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Damn Almonds

dry lakebed in California

By Spencer Rogers


| Surf, sun, and celebrities – what doesn’t California have to offer?

Last week California Governor Jerry Brown’s executive order imposing his state’s first ever mandatory water restrictions made the answer inescapably clear: H2O. And after four years of historic drought and inconsequential government action, Brown’s mandate alleviated many fears that California is not tackling their water crisis head-on. However, while the law imposes a significant 25% reduction in residential water consumption, it largely fails to constrain the state’s largest water consumers.

Notably exempt from Brown’s executive order is the farming industry, curious when agriculture consumes roughly 80 percent of California’s water supply. Though it must be noted the state’s farm industry does generate 37.5 billion dollars annually. Industry supporters may make the usual claims, “how can we possibly impose regulations that will compromise a money making, job producing industry…” Sound familiar? However, the truth is that the agricultural industry only accounts for roughly 2% of California’s GDP and 4% of its jobs. With California’s water supply in such a precarious state these numbers are a recipe for disaster, not a recipe for future sustainability.

And, the numbers become more unsettling upon closer examination. Current estimates show that the cultivation of almonds and alfalfa accounts for nearly 25% of the state’s yearly water supply, as 15% of California’s water is used for animal fodder and 10% is used for luxury food items.

Out of affinity for steak, let’s talk about the almonds. Undeniably a tasty source of vitamins and proteins, almond cultivation uses roughly 1.1 trillion gallons of California’s annual water supply. That is about 1 gallon of water for each individual almond – over 8 pounds of water for a 1 gram nut!

Coming from a guy who eats mocha almond fudge ice cream like it’s his religion – that’s ridiculous

In addition to their immunity from the new water mandate, many farmers have begun to drill wells on their land, draining billions of gallons from the state’s already depleted ground water reserves And thereby using up California’s “sunny day fund”, if you will.

“Climate conditions have exposed our house of cards,” said Jay Famiglietti, a NASA scientist. “The withdrawals far outstrip the replenishment. We can’t keep doing this.”

In a recent appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, Professor Famiglietti compared tapping into California’s groundwater supply to an individual using up their savings account – with no checking accounts or measurable income. This is never an exciting prospect when talking about money, much less our lifeblood.

As the drought enters year four with no end in sight, the question needs to be raised; isn’t preserving the last of our water more important than preserving the negligible economic contributions of nuts?

I am in no way suggesting that potential water restrictions should halt agricultural production, or necessarily even all almond production. But, until technological innovation can put an end to the water scarcity, California must impose regulations on the agricultural industry’s use of the state’s water supply. Conservation is the only option.

But hey, one day something like desalination may stop water crises before they begin and then, to echo Maher, we can use the left over salt for our damn almonds.

Photo credit – http://media5.starkinsider.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/California-Drought-610×360.jpg

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